This Bioethics Special Supplement started out with a narrow focus on bullying.
We thought that the issues associated with bullying among children and teenagers deserved the attention of bioethicists. We were specifically interested in why bullying has traditionally been treated as an almost normative childhood experience, something that is just a part of growing up, and that children should learn to deal with it on their own. The model for this benign neglect of the seriousness of bullying activities is illustrated in an anecdote recounted by Koo.1 In 1885 at King’s Boarding School in the United Kingdom, a 12-year-old boy was killed from bullying behaviors by his older classmates. The boys responsible were not punished because the bullying behavior was seen as normal and acceptable among schoolboys.1
Although attitudes about bullying have changed, there is still a tacit acceptance of behavior that in most other social contexts would be considered at least illegal if not criminal. Olweus,2 a pioneering researcher into the phenomenon of bullying, points out that the hallmark of bullying is not just that it is aggression by the powerful against the powerless, but that the aggression is repeated in a systematic, patterned way. Smith and Sharp3 focused on the ways that bullying is “a systematic abuse of power.” They point out that bullying is not done for personal gain, but instead is done primarily for the emotions and status that accompany the process of humiliating a weaker person. Bullies do not usually rob or rape their victims. They do not directly profit from bullying. If there is a gain for the bully, it is a gain in prestige, in admiration, or in the fear that it engenders in others.
Another essential component of bullying is that it is repetitive. Bullies hound their victims. …
Address correspondence to John Lantos, MD, Children’s Mercy Hospital, 2401 Gillham Rd, Kansas City, MO 64108. E-mail: